Rabbit Body Language
Recognising certain bunny behaviours can help you to understand what your rabbit is feeling. Mel Tibbs looks at three classic signals bunnies use to communicate, and explains what they mean.
Rabbits are usually silent pets, but that doesn’t mean they have nothing to say; they have a complex language all of their own and you can learn about your bunny’s personality by observing his behaviour. ‘Reading’ your rabbit and understanding how he communicates is one of the joys of sharing your home together.
Like all bunny behaviours, communication is based on how wild rabbits interact with their environment and each other. As prey animals, they are always on the alert for danger, and stamping or thumping is how they tell others that they are feeling threatened. If your bunny thumps his back legs it usually means he has heard something that could be harmful to him. Sometimes when you surprise rabbits they will thump at you to show their displeasure at being caught unawares. You might also notice that thumping can be a part of excited behaviour when your bunny is frisking about; if this is the case, your bunny will continue to play afterwards, rather than being still and alert to danger.
Kicking and scratching can be signs of aggression, as Ros Lamb of the Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund explains: ‘If caught by a predator in the wild, a rabbit will use its long claws and powerful back legs to fight for its survival.’ Your rabbit might try to kick and scratch when you are re-hutching him after an exercise period, or when you are trying to trim his claws. But kicking or scratching can also indicate fear. If your rabbit was not accustomed to being handled when he was young, he can be fearful when you try to pick him up or stroke him. ‘Rabbits may also kick or scratch when they are in pain,’ says Ros. ‘Regular check-ups with your vet can ensure that your rabbit is not unwell or suffering from any condition that may make handling uncomfortable.’
Finally, jumping, or ‘binkying’, as it is also known, is the ultimate sign of happiness a rabbit shows when exercising. Binkying is different from hopping because the jump will be higher, often including twisting in the air, ear flicking, and head flipping; it’s sometimes called the ‘happy bunny dance’. It’s a rabbit's way of telling you that he is generally pleased with life. Some rabbits binky a lot and some hardly at all; like us, they all have their own personalities.